More than four years after the end of the recession, unemployment rates for Oregon's rural counties remain significantly higher than pre-recession levels. The non-metro unemployment rate was 8.5 percent in March 2014, 2.3 percentage points above the Portland area rate of 6.2 percent and 1.2 percentage points higher than the other combined metro areas' rate of 7.3 percent.
The most challenging economic structural change faced by rural Oregon has been the reduction in logging jobs, and the shift away from wood product manufacturing jobs. In 1979, roughly two out of three manufacturing jobs in rural Oregon belonged in wood product manufacturing. By 2010, wood products accounted for one out of three rural manufacturing jobs. The mix of Oregon's manufacturing jobs shifted away from "traditional" manufacturing jobs in non-metro areas to manufacturing jobs in the metro areas, many of which require workers with completely different sets of skills. In 1979, Oregon's metropolitan areas - including counties that would become MSAs in later years - accounted for about seven out of 10 manufacturing jobs. Now, about nine out of 10 jobs in manufacturing is in a metropolitan area.
The disparity between non-metro and metro employment growth rates continued to grow during the 2000s. Non-metro counties' employment grew 24 percent, adding 61,000 jobs from 2000 through their pre-recession peak in 2007. The Portland area gained 305,000 jobs (42%) over the period, and employment in Oregon's other combined metro areas increased by 155,000 jobs (45%).
Like all areas, rural Oregon lost a lot of jobs during the recession. In 2013, non-metro Oregon as a whole finally experienced slight job growth. However, many of the individual non-metro areas of Oregon continued to experience job loss through 2013 and total employment remains well off the pre-recession highs.
The challenge of slower job growth in Oregon's rural areas isn't likely to end soon. In fact, employment projections for the 10-year period between 2012 and 2022 show generally slower growth for rural areas than for metropolitan areas (Table 1). Each of the six workforce areas with the fastest projected employment growth include a metro area, while the five areas with the slowest projected rates of employment growth are comprised entirely of non-metro counties.
|Slower Job Growth Projected for Oregon's Rural Areas, 2012-2022|
|Multnomah and Washington||695,300||809,800||114,500||16%|
|Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson||73,620||85,760||12,140||16%|
|Marion, Polk, and Yamhill||183,200||208,700||25,500||14%|
|Gilliam, Hood River, Sherman, Wasco, and Wheeler||26,230||29,810||3,580||14%|
|Jackson and Josephine||100,010||113,080||13,070||13%|
|The Oregon Consortium - Oregon Workforce Alliance||292,240||328,500||36,260||12%|
|Benton, Lincoln, and Linn||96,970||108,740||11,770||12%|
|Clatsop, Columbia, and Tillamook||35,100||39,210||4,110||12%|
|Klamath and Lake||24,030||26,740||2,710||11%|
|Baker, Union, and Wallowa||18,080||19,800||1,720||10%|
|Morrow and Umatilla||35,130||38,400||3,270||9%|
|Grant, Harney, and Malheur||17,550||19,060||1,510||9%|
|Coos and Curry||27,790||29,740||1,950||7%|
Between 2000 and 2010, the number of young Oregonians between the ages of 15 and 24 grew 8 percent statewide. At the same time, the number of people in that age group actually declined in 14 Oregon counties, all of which were rural. Two rural counties experienced the greatest declines: Grant County lost 22 percent of its young people and Wallowa County lost 21 percent. The decline also reached double digits in Sherman (17%), Wheeler (16%), Gilliam (16%), and Crook (12%) counties. Fewer job opportunities explain part of this shift, but the aging population of rural areas also leaves fewer families with children in that age group.
The older population of rural counties means their workforces are also older. Statewide, 22 percent of workers in Oregon were at least 55 years old in 2012. In 18 of Oregon's 25 non-metropolitan counties, at least 25 percent were 55 or older (Table 2). The oldest example is Wheeler County, where more than one out of three workers is at least 55.
Although people are working far longer than they have in previous generations, it's probably safe to assume that most workers would like to retire eventually. It could be a challenge to keep the same level of economic activity going unless rural counties can attract new workers.
|Rural Counties Have Higher Shares of Workers 55 and Over|
|Area||Number of Workers 55 and Over||Share of Workforce||Area||Number of Workers 55 and Over||Share of Workforce|
|Quarterly average employment for 2012.|
|Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Local Employment Dynamics|
All areas of Oregon face several common workforce challenges, including high unemployment rates, slow job growth, and an aging workforce. These challenges are even more severe and more pressing for rural areas. While recovery gains momentum in metro areas, addressing the workforce needs of rural areas continues to be one of Oregon's key workforce challenges.